Ott Tänak extended his lead on Secto Rally Finland over the opening loop of leg two this morning, as FIA World Rally Championship points leader Kalle Rovanperä gained on his Hyundai rival and fellow Toyota driver Esapekka Lappi who remains in second place.
Tricky and inconsistent rain-affected conditions greeted the crews into the fabulous 20.19-kilometre Päijälä test that kicked off the four-stage loop, as Elfyn Evans took the initiative to claim his first stage win of the rally. Tänak extended his overnight advantage over Lappi to 6.6s despite describing his Hyundai as “a nightmare to drive”, with Evans closing to within 15s of the lead.
But Rovanperä began his charge on the 20.56-kilometre Rapsula test, scoring his first stage win of the rally and edging ahead of Evans into third, as Tänak again built his lead over Lappi. Meanwhile, Craig Breen’s rally came to an end when his M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Puma Rally1 clouted a rock over a crest, the Irishman sustaining heavy damage to his right-front corner. That pushed Thierry Neuville up to fifth, the Belgian gaining a net two places after demoting Takamoto Katsuta, who had a half-spin at a junction in his Toyota.
Rovanperä kept the pressure on with another stage win over the 13.75-kilometre Patajoki test to close on the top two, as Lappi shaved Tänak’s lead. But Tänak hit back by storming to his first stage win of the day on the new 20.65km Vekkula test that concluded the morning loop, to leave him heading back to service with a lead of 9.5s.
Rovanperä closed to within 3.4s of Lappi with Evans five seconds further back in fourth. Neuville is fifth, ahead of Katsuta who is still within touching distance of the Hyundai in sixth.
“It was a good stage,” said Tänak at the end of the Vekkula test. “No moments really. It’s all we could do.”
Rovanperä admitted he was “lucky to be here” at the end of the stage after a moment where he almost crashed his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1. “A note was wrong and I was off the road.”Following service back in Jyväskylä, the crews will head back out this afternoon to complete the same route of four stages to finish the leg, ahead of the final day on Sunday.
Photo: Touho Häkkinen